CASCAR: California Animal Shelter COVID Action Response

We’re proud of the adaptability and resourcefulness being shown by so many California shelters in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At the beginning of April, we began convening a weekly zoom call to help in the sharing of ideas, processes, and protocols being implemented and tested throughout the state.

The group that arose from the initial calls elected to adopt the name California Animal Shelter COVID Action Response (CASCAR).

We will update this page regularly with recordings of the calls, plus any resources referenced during the calls.

9/22/20 – Office Hours

Dr. Karsten reviews the initial results of the Change Management and Communication Survey to explore how CASCAR shelters think they are perceived by their communities and how they wish they would be perceived.

9/15 – The Return of Shelter PALS

Do all the provisions of the Hayden Law apply to all California shelters? What’s an unfunded mandate? Does “shall” mean “may” or “must”? Bruce and Brandy, the SF SPCA’s Shelter PALS team, answer these and other questions about legal requirements for intake of cats and dogs at California shelters.


This week Dr. Hurley shared the results of our recent survey about the needs and preferences of group participants. Dr. Karsten shared her first draft of a CASCAR compact, a statement of shared values and commitments.


Valley Humane Executive Director Melanie Sadek, Jennifer Hawkins and Jessica Novillo of Orange County Animal Care, and Jill Tucker kick off a discussion of the communication challenges that have come from making changes in sheltering practices.


At the beginning of this week’s office hours, Dr. Hurley offered “The Emotional Impact of Disaster Response – Supporting Staff and Leaders,” a brief presentation inspired partly by her reading on the topic of human health care workers. There are many similarities between shelter workers and hospital workers. Studies of human health care workers may offer insight into how best to support shelter staff and leaders during the current pandemic and beyond.


SF SPCA General Counsel Brandy Kuentzel and animal law expert Bruce Wagman introduce Shelter PALS (Shelter Policy and Legal Services), created to help shelters with legal support and education. Then they walk us through the nitty gritty of California law around veterinary telemedicine for animals in shelters.


Dr. Cindy Karsten hosts CASCAR Office Hours. For the first 15 minutes, CalAnimals’s Jill Tucker and others discuss the political machinations around SB-1347, which was later withdrawn. Other topics discussed include adoption success inside and outside shelter walls, budget cuts, and more.


CASCAR went meta this week, with a call about CASCAR–how it began, how it has evolved, and where it should go next.


José Ocaño and Jyothi Robertson joined us again for part two of our DEI discussion, and we got a special report from Allison Cardona on how DEI works at Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control. This deeper dive into applying a racial and social justice lens both within our organizations and to the work that we do took place partly in breakout rooms, which were not recorded.


José Ocaño and Jyothi Robertson joined us again for part one of a two-parter (the next part will be Tuesday, July 21st), to dive deeper into applying a racial and social justice lens both within our organizations and to the work that we do.

Kate explained why we can’t fulfill our mission without changing the systems we work within. Jyothi took us through definitions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and showed how organizations and staff only reach their full potential where all three overlap. José described his previous experiences as a shelter leader and his current work ensuring that the culture at Best Friends enables the promise of DEI.


This “office hours” call includes discussion of various topics: intake after the the July 4th weekend, COVID guidance and messaging, what to do if an employee tests positive, microchip scanning by private veterinarians and shelters, and more.


In lieu of our CASCAR call this week, Drs. Hurley and Delany presented a talk about RTF in the time of COVID originally scheduled for this year’s Animal Care Conference. Enough questions arose that we plan to use our 7/7 call to facilitate an exchange of ideas about the appropriateness of RTF for cats particularly during this pandemic.


Looking at Animal Sheltering Through a Racial and Social Justice Lens

We were grateful to be joined on this call by James Evans, Founder/Director of Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE), José Ocaño, Senior Director of Culture and Talent for Best Friends, and Dr. Jyothi Robertson of Adisa to start a series of conversations on how to connect more effectively to our diverse communities by examining our personal and institutional biases.

Special Call 6/18: Medical Assistance Programs

In response to demand from CalAnimals list participants to learn how shelters provide medical assistance to their communities, and to the generous response from shelters providing such assistance to share information, Jill Tucker led a Q & A session on Thursday, June 18. CalAnimals is also scheduling a webinar to go into further depth with several participants on this call.


Dr. Cindi Delany walked us through her Mighty Staffing Calculator, which provides a rational foundation to justify staffing levels that goes beyond simplistic formulas that fail to capture the many facets of staffing needs to run a shelter. This is a work in progress and your input is requested, especially as we think about the work entailed in keeping animals successful safe in the community versus bringing them in the shelter.

Oh, and most exciting of all, we gave away a CASCAR mug and revealed the new CASCAR jingle courtesy of Andy Cowitt!


As governments throughout the state continue to grapple with cutbacks, this week we focused on working with shrinking budgets. Dr. Hurley began by looking at budget cuts through the lens of operating within capacity. Julie Bank, Director of Riverside County Department of Animal Services, described the process of responding to COVID and massive budget cuts within days of taking leadership of the department.


Dr. Robertson was back to follow up on her talk about resilience. Dr. Anne Martin gave us some information on the spread of the deadly RHDV among wild rabbits and offered a link to an SOP document for shelters and rescues.


We followed up on some themes that came up last Tuesday. We started out with a quick update on appointment-based sheltering (not the same as limiting intake!). Then we turned to strategies for resilience from Dr. Jyothi Robertson, who has a special interest in that topic.  Jyothi is a graduate of the UC Davis KSMP shelter medicine residency training program and you can learn more about her and her shelter consulting work at

5/19: Empowering the Community

Dr. Karsten points out that dealing with COVID-19 is like running a marathon you didn’t train for. Or is it a relay race? We have asked our communities for help, and they’ve really come through for us. Dr. Karsten presents many examples, and resources galore in her presentation, “Empowering the Community: To reunite and rehome.” Gina Knepp of Michelson Found Animals offers “Helping Finders,” a brief presentation about what California law says, and doesn’t say, about ownership of found animals.

5/12: Phase 2 and Beyond

Kate takes us through the CASCAR calls to date and then presents ideas about how shelters can protect clients, staff and animals as we begin a phased re-opening of services.

5/5: Appointments and more

On 5/5 we chose a tagline for our logo, debuted our new zoom background, and announced Portalmania 2020. Jill Tucker and Gina Knepp talked about the murky legal path from animal finder to owner. Kate discussed the benefits of scheduling appointments. Animal Care of Davis County Deputy Director James Pumphrey answered questions about his video showing how his shelter uses Acuity to ease public access to services while managing shelter workload.


This week, we voted on logo options for Team COVID drafted by Bobby Mann. Then our own Dr. Delany led us on a behind the scenes tour of the new Mighty Shelter Medicine Portal we’re working on to gather all the resources we’ve been putting together in a logical and easily navigable format. There’s a place to chat and hang out, a comprehensive webinar calendar, pilot courses on COVID-19 response, and more. After the tour, we spent the balance of the hour discussing ideas and concerns for pathways from finder to foster or adopter.

4/21: “Maintaining live outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic…and beyond”


We spent much of the meeting in breakout rooms with smaller groups sharing what’s working and what’s not as they’ve adjusted their operations in response to social distancing requirements. KSMP team members reported back on the discussions at the end of the meeting, and their reports make up the brief recording here (under 10 minutes).

4/7: “Shelter Admission Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Providing Service Safely”

Joining us on this call were Director Julie Bank and Veterinary and Customer Service Operations Chief Emma Perez-Singh from Riverside County and Maria Solacito, DVM, from LA County Downey Animal Care Center.

First Call 3/31: “California Animal Services’ Role During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

“All of us have a role to play, and the time to play that role is now.” Dr. Hurley surveys the landscape in California shelters during the early days of response to the pandemic and proposes leadership principles for all of us, rooted in our deepest convictions as people in a lifesaving profession.

If you would like to participate in future calls, register here. Get ready for the next call by downloading our official CASCAR Zoom backdrop (PNG). If you have any questions, please email